Sermon for Sunday February 25th, 2018, the Second Sunday in Lent
The Lessons: Ps. 22:22-30; Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
Text: Mark 8:31-38
Topic: Take up your cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ
The appetite of Americans for Mexican food increased dramatically in the 1990s, to the point that in 1996 it was a $1.6 billion market. The market for salsa and refried beans and the like began to grow when small companies like El Paso Chile in Texas marketed an authentic-style Mexican food that even a native of Mexico City would love. Then several large American companies, such as Pillsbury, saw the potential in the market and began to buy out smaller companies and market Mexican-style food on a much larger scale. But what they labeled Mexican food was really a watered-down version of the original to suit American tastes.
“Heat must be carefully rationed at Old El Paso [the Pillsbury brand],” writes Glen Collins in the New York Times. “’Forty percent of those on the East Coast want salsa as mild as it can be,’ said Dr. Bernadette Piacek-Llanes, vice president of research and development for Pillsbury Specialty Brands. So Old El Paso, like Pace, has introduced mild, ‘cool salsa’ products.”
Industry experts call these products gringo food, and it is clearly catching on….
Bob Messenger, editor of the industry publication Food processing, says that the “gringo-ization of Mexican food will continue. In 20 years, you won’t even recognize what they’ll be calling Mexican food.”
In business there’s nothing wrong with watering down a strong flavor, but the same impulse leads to disaster in our faith. Like the inauthentic gringo style of Mexican food, there is a gringo gospel that is simply not the real thing. The hot, offensive themes – such as the cross and the blood of Christ – are taken out, and a comfortable, people-pleasing substitute is found. The false gospel may be soothing to the taste, but it is powerless to save. The true gospel will always be an offense to sinful mankind.
(pp. 373-374, Craig Brian Larson and Leadership Journal: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers. Baker Books, 2008)
TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS OF THE MESSIAH’S ROLE
The Lord Jesus had just taught his disciples that he would suffer many things, including being rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and being killed; then, after three days, he would rise from the dead (Mark 8:31). Now he had to deal with a false concept of the Messiah, one that involved no suffering or death.
“No suffering, no rejection, no being put to death for you,” Peter might have objected. “Otherwise, how can you be the Christ that we have hoped will rescue Israel from oppression by the Roman Empire?”
It was not easy for Peter to hear the Lord’s stern reply to his rebuke, nor to know that his objections typified Satan’s attitude and the attitude of men, and not God’s will. Against Peter’s objections and misunderstanding of God’s will for Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, addressing his disciples as well as the crowds, spoke the hard sayings which follow in the second paragraph of our Second/Gospel Lesson today.
The very suffering and death that people naturally want to escape was appointed as God’s will for the Lord Jesus Christ. Though it was very hard for him, the Lord Jesus embraced the way of the cross and followed it willingly, because it was God’s will for him and for the salvation of the world. Not only did Peter fail to understand the meaning and necessity of the Lord’s passion, but he even refused to accept it as God’s will.
To counter this misunderstanding, the Lord did not explain his own future passion, death and resurrection, but confronted his disciples and the people with the hard condition of discipleship: every disciple of Jesus Christ must follow the way of the cross.
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
The first step in the way of the cross is to deny oneself. All selfish ambitions, desires, lusts, greed, and worldliness, must be laid aside, or renounced. The disciple of Christ can have nothing more to do with them. This is like being able to say with St. Paul:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20, KJV)
Next, the person who would be a disciple of Christ must take up his cross and follow Jesus Christ as Lord. This statement would have shocked the Jews of Jesus’ day, as carrying a cross was carrying something that was cursed, since, according to the Jewish Law, anyone who hung on a cross or a tree was cursed (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23). St. Paul states quite explicitly that Jesus Christ became a curse for us by hanging on the cross, and that he did so to redeem us from the curse of the law, that is, its condemnation of us because of our sin.
The fact that Christ was crucified for us does not excuse us from taking up our own cross and following him. What is the cross that each of us must carry? Misunderstood, reviled, mocked, rejected, and falsely condemned, Jesus carried his cross, being helped by Simon of Cyrene (Luke 23:26). The cross that each of us must carry is different for each one of us. Jeremiah the prophet, for example, was put in the stocks (Jer. 20:2), imprisoned (Jer. 38:15) and let down into a miry dungeon (Jer. 38:6), because of his preaching God’s prophetic messages to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Hebrews 11:35-38 describes the trials endured by heroes of the faith. What kind of cross does each carry today?
We know our cross only when we have denied ourselves and are following the Lord Jesus Christ’s will for our lives. Today it may mean that we are called bigots because of our Christian faith, or that we are hated by many who believe the Church to be dysfunctional and unhelpful to society. We may find that we lose friends and gain enemies, simply because we have borne witness to our faith in controversies about political issues. These are only the beginnings of opposition to the Christian faith. The particular Christian calling that each of us has in this world may lead to experiencing the shame of being a Christian. The path a criminal would take to his place of execution would be crowded with scornful, jeering onlookers, and the situation similar to the times of public hangings in England, when people came out to be entertained by the spectacle. Ultimately, taking up one’s cross means that one must be prepared to suffer martyrdom for the sake of Jesus Christ and the eternal Gospel, but this extreme possibility also covers all the trials a Christian may suffer for Christ’s sake, even if he does not suffer martyrdom. In many and various ways, Christians must carry a cross. For some this may mean being the only Christian at one’s workplace, and for others it may mean ridicule by family members who despise their faith in Christ.
After this saying concerning taking up one’s cross (Mark 8:34), comes one of the greatest paradoxes in the Gospel: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35, KJV). It is an apparent contradiction; yet it expresses the profound truth of the authentically lived Christian life: one gives up or loses all that people usually strive for in life, such as wealth, comforts, material things, success, fame, for the sake of doing the will of God, but in doing so, saves one’s life eternally, and gains spiritual treasure (Matt. 6:19-21). This paradox is embodied in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, which is why St. Paul commanded Christians to have the same frame of mind as the Lord Jesus Christ, who though equal to God, humbled himself and became man, being obedient even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). This resulted in God’s exaltation of him through his resurrection and ascension into heaven, and will result in all creatures’ worship of him (Phil. 2:9-11).
What is the cross that the Lord Jesus Christ calls you to carry for His sake, and are you carrying it obediently?